I’ve been a Rush fan for more than 35 years; they’ve been my favourite band since the very first time I heard them, in 1977. (You can see them as I saw them for the first time [on the 1977 Juno awards] here.) So you probably think I was pretty happy when the long critically-despised band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. And I was. It’s not that membership in the Hall is all that big a deal to me; like most long-time fans, I’d long since made my peace with liking a band that most people hate/make fun of. But it’s still nice to see laudatory articles in the mainstream press, even if they’re clearly not coming from a place of deep affection. (Macleans’ Colby Cosh is a big exception – see here for an example of Cosh’s writing on Rush.) And it’s great to have lived long enough to see Neil Peart come out of his shell.
(By the way, I guess I’ll have to disavow my “when did Rush get old?” post, as they look [and sound!] pretty frisky on the Clockwork Angels Tour Blu-ray…)
However, I’ve noticed that I have a weird feeling when I read these stories about Rush in the mainstream media: a feeling that the band they’re talking about is not MY Rush. Maybe all fans feel like this, I don’t know. Anyway, I got to thinking about how MY Rush is different from the one I read and hear about so much these days. There are three main points of difference:
1) Alex Lifeson is the heart and soul of my Rush.
The Rush I read and hear about seems to be composed of 50% Neil Peart, 40% Geddy Lee and 10% Alex Lifeson. Even though Rush as a unit are usually lauded for their musicianship, if you look at those lists the mainstream music press (like Rolling Stone) publish (100 Greatest …), you will note that Neil Peart appears at or near the top of the rock drummers list, as does Geddy Lee for rock bassists, while poor Alex is near the bottom of the rock guitarists top 100 (if he makes the cut at all). But, to me, Alex defines the Rush sound. He is the man. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, when Rush moved away from a guitar-dominated sound and turned up the keyboards starting with the Signals album, the band entered a period that many Rush fans like to conveniently forget/ignore. Unfortunately, I remember Hold Your Fire all too well. No one was happier than me when the band realized they had lost something important when they made Lifeson step back into the shadows.
2) In my Rush, Neil Peart’s drumming has ruined more than a few songs.
I was listening to an interview with Geddy Lee once where he mentioned that Peart likes to play “at the back end of the beat.” When I heard that, it made sense of something I had long noticed in some Rush songs: Peart’s drumming sometimes makes the song drag a bit. The best Rush songs combine crunching power with incredible agility, but sometimes Peart’s drumming interferes with the agility part. The best example is the song Between Sun and Moon from the Counterparts album. I think Peart’s drumming ruins that song, which would otherwise be one of my favourite Rush songs.
3) My Rush is saddled with a lousy lyricist
Speaking of Neil, he seems like a real smart guy but he is very often too smart for his own good when it comes to writing lyrics. By far his biggest failing is his love of wordplay. Glenn Gould, in So You Want to Write a Fugue, said “Never be clever for the sake of being clever.” If only Peart had heeded this advice, we would have been spared lyrics like “In different circles we keep holding our ground/Indifferent circles, we keep spinning round and round” or “How can anybody be enlightened/Truth is, after all, so poorly lit” (not to mentioned the entirety of Anagram (for Mongo)). In fact,the whole Snakes and Arrows album is weighed down by lousy lyrics. I’m very aware than I’m in the minority among Rush fans on this point; I guess a book like this represents the other point of view.
OK, enough of that. Now to go watch Lifeson absolutely nail the solo on “The Big Money” on the Clockwork Angels Tour Blu-ray. Not bad for a 60-year-old.